So here is the discussion for Persuasion. Feel free to discuss it back in the comments or in a blog post.]
"All the privilege I claim for my own sex (it is not a very enviable one; you need not covet it), is that of loving longest, when existence or when hope is gone."
She could not immediately have uttered another sentence; her heart was too full, her breath too much oppressed.
Let me start by saying that I think Persuasion is one of the most underrated works, not just of Austen, but of English literature, period. All of Austen's great strengths are represented in the story of Anne Elliot, but with some tweaks and some subtlety that elevates it somewhat above the others (even the perennial fan favorite, P&P).
Anne is possibly Austen's most rootforable heroine. She's timid and a bit of an underdog, and she's surrounded by a ridiculous family that does not appreciate her as they should. She is forced to watch as the man she loves flirts with, and possibly entangles himself with, a silly -- younger -- girl. Even with all of the comic relief provided by her ridiculous relations, Anne's story is a fairly dark one. Though the reader has hope -- it is Austen, afterall -- Anne herself has none. This makes you feel for her I think more than any other Austen character.
But I make it sound depressing. It's not. It's a very bittersweet story. It may lack some of Austen's characteristic light touch, but it's still there. But it's more adult than her stories, generally, more mature. It's a story of redemption, of learning to hope, "when existence or when hope is gone." I have a sneaking suspicion (and I'm not the only one) that it is the closest to Jane's personal life as she will let us get, though unfortunately for her, she never got her happy ending as Anne did.
Another thing that sets Persuasion apart: the role reversal. People love the depictions of class and society in Austen's stories, and in most cases, the woman is of a less wealthy, less prominent family than is the man. In Persuasion, it is deemed by Anne's family that Captain Wentworth (then, not yet a Cptn) is beneath the Elliot family. It's interesting to have that little switch and see how much harder it is for a woman to marry for love when her love is below her station, not above it. A man may do as he wishes for love, but a woman may not. (<-- at some point, this thought is going to be linked to an interesting little discussion, so come back and check in a week or so...)
But what do we really read this story for? It's the reunion, of course. All of those little flutters that you get when they almost seem to be ready for each other again, it all builds up until you can take no more -- and then you get the letter.
Here's the trailer to the 2007 version: